Chickpeas are a new crop to the UK although they have been cultivated for centuries in Asia and the Mediterranean. In hotter climates they are grown for the familiar dried pea-like seeds, but in our damper, cooler conditions they are best harvested green as a luxury crop, like petit pois, with a taste somewhere between fresh raw French beans and garden peas. Try them in a salad with beetroot, feta and fresh orange!
How to grow
- Chickpeas need a well-drained soil with full sun. The ideal is a relatively poor soil, as high levels of nutrients encourage lush growth, prone to mildews and related diseases. Avoid heavy clays or shady sites. Unlike many crops, chickpeas don’t need a very fine seedbed and appear to germinate more readily on roughly cultivated soil.
- Sow chickpeas as you would for dwarf French beans, at a spacing of 7-13cm (3-5in) between plants and 20-25cm (8-10in) between rows. They can be sown direct from late March to early April, then throughout the season until mid-June. Germination is rapid in warm weather.
- Once seedlings are established they need little aftercare except occasional weeding. Flowers usually appear within 2 months of sowing, and pods will set shortly afterwards.
How to eat
Chickpeas are best harvested as soon as the pods have peas inside are large enough to eat: it’s rarely worth trying to ripen pods in our climate. Each pod only contains between one and three peas. (Take care when harvesting, the fine reddish dew on their leaves contains malic acid, which can be an irritant. Also the spiky pod ends can be unpleasantly painful if they slip beneath a fingernail.)
Green chickpeas require minimal cooking, and like all fresh vegetables, they are best eaten soon after picking.
Mix them in salads with herbs and zingy dressings, stir them through rice, and add them to soups and stews. If you are lucky enough to have a glut, they can be frozen after a brief blanching time or turned into a deliciously fresh tasting green hummus.
For a full list of multicultural vegetables see here. They all come from our innovative Sowing New Seeds and Growing From Your Roots projects, when Garden Organic worked with allotment holders of Indian, South American, East Asian, Afro Caribbean and African extraction.